UN: Gaza needs construction material before winter
A senior U.N. official on Monday called on Israel to allow building materials into Gaza, warning that the thousands displaced by an Israeli offensive early this year face a cold winter without proper accommodations, AP reported.
Thousands of homes in Gaza were damaged during Israel's fierce three-week operation against the territory's militant Hamas rulers.
Although the offensive ended in January, the homes still can't be repaired because Israel does not allow raw materials to enter the territory as a part of its two-year blockade to pressure Hamas.
"Without repair, winter winds and rain will render damaged homes uninhabitable," Maxwell Gaylard, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said before touring a smashed up Gaza neighborhood.
"The winter will be particularly hard on the children of Gaza, whose capacity to withstand the rigors of a cold wet winter has already been severely undermined by a marked deterioration of basic services," he added.
The Gaza Strip, a shabby crowded sliver of land on the Mediterranean, has short rainy winters that usually begin by December.
Israel attacked Gaza last Dec. 27 in an offensive it said was meant to halt years of rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians, according to U.N. and Palestinian estimates. Thirteen Israelis also were killed.
The U.N. estimates around 20,000 Gaza residents were made homeless by the offensive. Some 3,500 homes were destroyed, another 2,800 were badly damaged and around 53,000 others sustained minor damage.
Wealthier Gazans have been able to buy smuggled concrete on the black market - at four times the pre-blockade price - but have had to make do with plastic to replace windows and seal holes in roofs. Others have crowded into apartments with relatives, and around 2,000 Gaza residents still live in donated tents in heavily damaged areas, Gaylard said.
Israel imposed the blockade in 2007 after Hamas, an Iranian-backed group sworn to Israel's destruction, seized control of Gaza.
Israel says raw materials could be used for military purposes.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel would allow more materials in when it receives assurances that the goods will be used for civilian purposes. But he said the "uncontrolled flow of cement and iron" into Gaza is "out of the question."
Gaylard said officials had lobbied Israel for months to allow in building products like cement to finish off some $80 million worth of U.N. construction projects, promising the materials would not reach Hamas' hands.